Smoke rises from the burn area of the East Fork Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, June 16, 2017 near Sterling, Alaska. The fire, sparked by dry lightning, had burned about 850 acres by Friday night. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Smoke rises from the burn area of the East Fork Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, June 16, 2017 near Sterling, Alaska. The fire, sparked by dry lightning, had burned about 850 acres by Friday night. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Progress made on East Fork fire

Firefighters are making progress on keeping the East Fork wildfire, burning near Sterling, from moving toward people or the Sterling Highway.

Alaska Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Celeste Prescott said firefighters saturated the west line of the fire to keep it from moving toward residents and were focusing Saturday on the south line to keep it from reaching the Sterling Highway. The fire is burning in a limited suppression area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge about 5 to 6 miles north of the highway, around mile 76.

The blaze was discovered just before 6:30 p.m. Thursday and was estimated Friday night to be 850 acres. However, it’s growing in the right direction, Prescott said.

“It was pretty active yesterday afternoon and early evening, but it did lay down in the late evening,” she said.

The wildfire sent lots of smoke up toward Anchorage on Friday, Prescott said, so much that many residents called authorities worried.

Two water scooping aircraft and a tanker have been dumping water on the blaze. Prescott said firefighters will soon be up to three helicopters in addition to those aircraft. An additional four crews are either en route or already dispatched to bring the total number of firefighters close to 80, she said. These will be ground forces used to reinforce the work that’s been done from the air, she said.

Prescott said the Alaska Division of Forestry and refuge personnel feel good about the progress being made on the blaze and its direction into the refuge. The two entities are coordinating a response to the fire, which was caused by dry lightning.

“It’s Mother Nature cleaning up some black spruce out there,” Prescott said.

Refuge Ranger Leah Eskelin of the refuge said that residents should report any other smoke they may see in the area due to the recent prevalence of lightning. Suspected fire or smoke can be reported to 907-260-4100.

Eskelin said Friday the section being consumed by the fire hasn’t burned in a very long time.

“We recognize that human safety (comes) first, and after that, fire has a natural place in the landscape,” Eskelin said.

There is also a temporary flight restriction in place in the area over the wildfire.

The East Fork fire has cost roughly $50,000 to date, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Firefighters also helped with another small fire off East End Road in Homer this week. The Wilderness fire was only 1 acre, according to the coordination center, and was also discovered on Thursday.

Members of the Division of Forestry and Kachemak Emergency Services brought that fire under control that same day, according to a Facebook post by the Division of Forestry.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

Smoke rises from the burn area of the East Fork Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, June 16, 2017 near Sterling, Alaska. The fire, sparked by dry lightning, had burned about 850 acres by Friday night. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Smoke rises from the burn area of the East Fork Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, June 16, 2017 near Sterling, Alaska. The fire, sparked by dry lightning, had burned about 850 acres by Friday night. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

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